A very youthful Armagh City side suffered a Championship 2 setback against Ballyclare Comrades at Holm Park on New Year’s Eve. A clinical performance by the visitors saw then score twice in each half to win their sixth game in seven outings. A late penalty and the sending-off of full-back Michael O’Neill after 70 minutes also added to City’s woes.
Matters began badly for Armagh when teenager Chris Maxwell was sidelined with a leg injury with less than 10 minutes gone. And moments later City were 1-0 down when a poor passage of defensive play gifted the ball to Ballyclare’s Mark McClelland who hammered home a low 12-yard shot.
After the break Armagh grabbed the match by the horns and began to create scoring opportunities. Ballyclare ‘keeper Ross Glendening – on loan from Linfield – was suddenly forced into action and he did well to clear efforts from both Adam and Richard Nesbitt.
Midway through the second period Armagh captain Liam Cullen also fired in a fierce 20-yard free-kick which whizzed narrowly wide of an upright with Glendenning beaten all ends up.
But as City pressed they began to be caught on the counter-attack by the more experienced opposition. And, on 70 minutes, Armagh literally paid the penalty when a visiting players was unended just inside the 18-yard area.
Scott Ervine took the responsibility for Ballyclare and his low spot-kick entered the net via an upright. Before and after the penalty-kick O’Neill questioned the award and on each occasion he was given a yellow card and, ultimately, his marching orders.
This resulted in yet another re-organisation for City who, at this stage, were playing for pride.
Moments later the visitors were awarded a free-kick 20-yards out but, on this occasion, City stopper Sean Morgan pulled off an unbelievable save to deny the now rampant Comrades.
But there was nothing the home ‘keeper could do on the stroke of full-time to prevent Ballyclare notching their fourth score. Morgan initially saved a fierce low shot but the ball was diverted into the path of the onrushing Ricky Higgins who blasted into an empty net from close range.
A bad day at the office for City but their cause was not helped when four senior players failed to turn out for the encounter. However, the young City side battled well under the leadership of Cullen and, with some luck, the scoreline could have been much closer.